De Bello Civile Book 1, lines 356 - 391

Caesar’s Centurion pledges loyalty

by Lucan

Caesar has crossed the Rubicon and is eager to take the war to his opponent, Pompey, but can he count on the support of his troops? Calling his men to the standards, he addresses them on the the state of affairs at Rome and the risks that he and they face. At first they seem to vacillate at the prospect of hostilities against against Rome itself. But then Laelius, the Chief Centurion and one of Caesar’s old campaigners, speaks out to offer him a lesson in initiative and his comrades a lesson in loyalty.

See the blog post with David’s “Oath of the Horatii” here.

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Summi tunc munera pili
Laelius, emeritique gerens insignia doni,
servati civis referentem praemia quercum:
si licet, exclamat, Romani maxime rector
nominis et ius est, veras expromere voces;
quod tam lenta tuas tenuit patientia vires,
conquerimur. deeratne tibi fiducia nostri?
dum movet haec calidus spirantia corpora sanguis,
et dum pila valent fortes torquere lacerti,
degenerem patiere togam, regnumque senatus?
usque adeo miserum est, civili vincere bello?
duc age per Scythiae populos, per inhospita Syrtis
litora, per calidas Libyae sitientis arenas.
haec manus, ut victum post terga relinqueret orbem,
Oceani tumidas remo compescuit undas:
fregit et Arctoo spumantem vertice Rhenum.
iussa sequi tam posse mihi, quam velle necesse est.
nec civis meus est, in quem tua classica, Caesar,
audiero. per signa decem felicia castris,
perque tuos iuro quocumque ex hoste triumphos;
pectore si fratris gladium, iuguloque parentis
condere me iubeas, plenaeque in viscera partu
coniugis, invita peragam tamen omnia dextra;
si spoliare deos, ignemque immittere templis,
numina miscebit castrensis flamma Monetae;
castra super Tusci si ponere Tybridis undas,
Hesperios audax veniam metator in agros.
tu quoscumque voles in planum effundere muros,
his aries actus disperget saxa lacertis:
illa licet, penitus tolli quam iusseris urbem,
Roma sit. His cunctae simul adsensere cohortes,
elatasque alte, quaecumque ad bella vocaret,
promisere manus. It tantus ad aethera clamor,
quantus, piniferae Boreas cum Thracius Ossae
rupibus incubuit, curvato robore pressae
fit sonus, aut rursus redeuntis in aethera silvae.

Then Laelius, the Chief Centurion, who also wore a decoration for distinguished conduct, the oak leaf given in return for saving the life of a citizen, called out: “If it is in order to speak the truth, and with your permission, supreme guardian of the reputation of Rome, our complaint is that your patience has lasted so long and held you back from using force! Had you no faith in us? As long as our blood is hot enough to keep our bodies moving, and as long as our arms are strong enough to throw our javelins, are you going to bear the disgrace of wearing the toga and accept the authority of the Senate? Is it so miserable as all that to win a civil war? Lead us through the tribes of Scythia, over the hostile shores of the Syrtes, across the hot sands of bone-dry Lybia! So that we could leave a conquered world behind us, we are a force that subdued the waves of the sea with our oars and cracked the torrent of the Rhine right at its most northerly waters. If it can be done, then what you tell us to do will be done. And anyone I have heard your warhorns blown against, Caesar, is no countryman of mine. I swear by our standards, victorious in ten campaigns, and by your triumphs – whoever the enemy may be – that if you order me to stab my sword into my brother’s chest or my parents’ throat, or into my pregnant wife’s belly as she is giving birth, I will do it with this right hand, little though I like it. If you order me to rob the Gods and set fire to their temples, then the fires of the army mint will melt down their statues. If you tell me to pitch camp on the Tiber in Tuscany, I will march onto the fields of Italy without a qualm to mark out the lines. Whatever walls you want levelled to the ground, it’s driven by these shoulders that the ram will scatter the stones. The city you order razed will be razed, even if it is Rome!” All the cohorts together shouted their approval and raised their hands high, promising them for whatever wars Caesar called them to. The shout that went up to the heavens was as loud as the noise from the trees that bend when the Thracian north wind presses down onto the slopes of pine-covered Mount Ossa, or when they spring back again up high into the sky.